MISSOULA – On Wednesday afternoon, just days after scoring a season-high against Northern Colorado, Sayeed Pridgett could be found getting shots up an hour-and-a-half before Montana’s practice at the Adams Center.
Pridgett’s workout came one day after he was named the Big Sky Conference player of the week after a weekend that saw him shoot a combined 18 for 22 against Eastern Washington and Northern Colorado for 42 total points, 26 of which came against the Bears.
Yet, there he was, getting up shots long before anyone else joined him with assistant coach Rachi Wortham, working on his dribble-drive pull-up jumpers and catch-and-shoot threes, like he was trying to improve his field goal percentage and not coming off of a two-game stretch where he shot 81.8 percent from the field.
Pridgett got Montana going with the first 11 points in what ended up being an 88-64 win over Northern Colorado to get the Grizzlies back on track after back-to-back conference losses. The initial stats said Pridgett actually scored a career-high 29 points in the game, but a stat correction was issued Thursday saying it was instead 26.
So Pridgett’s career-high will remain 28 which he achieved as a freshman at Sacramento State. But hey, more fuel for the fire.
Head coach Travis DeCuire said Pridgett is one of the best energy creators on the team prior to tipoff, especially for the players who don’t get onto the court. But they returned the favor for Pridgett once the game started, which he credits to his hot shooting start.
“I just felt like I had good energy,” Pridgett said, adding, “One of my friends (Tre’Shon Smoots) plays there so there was a little rival thing. Just had to make a statement. But honestly, our team just felt ready to go. We were pumped before the game. The guys on the bench got me going early being loud and rowdy.”
Snapping that losing streak was the key motivator for the junior to keep the energy at a high level.
“Me being an energy guy, I feel like I have to bring the team along,” Pridgett said. “I feel like everybody has energy and always wants to be here, but when guys are having bad days or the energy isn’t there, I feed off that myself, just having a lot of energy.”
Perhaps that might explain why many of the Oakland, California, native's best performances have come on the road this season. The matchup with Northern Colorado was in Greeley, Colorado, and Pridgett had another breakout game back when Montana was at Creighton on Nov. 28. Notably, Pridgett scored 21 of his 23 points in the first half.
In 11 games where he’s scored double figures, seven have been on the road.
“On the road it’s a lot harder to bring energy because there’s no crowd so that’s my best right there,” Pridgett said. “I’ve been doing that ever since I started playing ball. I love the game so much, just being able to play brings me energy and I can help others out along the way.”
Pridgett has evolved from sixth man from a year ago to arguably Montana’s best scoring threat at times. He’s started every game this year, averaging 13 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists in around 28 minutes per contest. He’s shooting 58.2 percent from the field.
The greatest area of improvement for Pridgett has been from the 3-point line. After shooting 10 percent and 18.8 percent clip from deep as a freshman and sophomore, respectively, Pridgett is 11 for 23 from deep this season, converting threes at a 47.8 percent rate.
Montana boasts a team filled with scorers, and Pridgett has had to adjust to that.
“It’s a difficult transition because when you come off the bench as sixth man, you can take a lot of tough shots,” DeCuire said. “But when you’re grouped with four other starters that all are potential double-figure scorers, and a couple guys are probably going to be top five, probably, in scoring in the history of the school, it’s hard to just shoot every time you touch the ball. So that was a tough transition for him.
“He’s handled it very well and his field goal percentage is a sign of that.”
The 3-point shooting was a focal point coming into the year as well as consistency. Pridgett earned good minutes his first two seasons, but now that he’s starting, he wants to improve on that as well as his growth and maturity.
“As a freshman and sophomore, you being a young guy, you don’t want to make any mistakes so you just kind of pressure yourself,” Pridgett said. “Now that I’m a junior, you just have to relax and let the game come to you.
“I am my biggest critic. I’ll take criticism from anyone but I’m the hardest on myself. You have to compete against yourself every day,” adding that his father, Terry Pridgett Sr., helped instill that drive in him.
“He’s allowed us to coach him,” DeCuire added. “He’s got high expectations for himself and I think in his mind he’s as good as anyone in this program and I wouldn’t disagree with that at all. But roles are roles and he settled in to whatever role we’ve given him and allowed us to coach him hard and still maintain his aggressiveness and confidence and that’s not always easy to do.”
Going forward, Pridgett wants to improve as a rebounder, saying he believes he can do a lot better. Defense has been another area of improvement for him, but DeCuire said he’s done well in both.
“I saw the evolution last year defensively but this year the rebounding started to pick up,” DeCuire said.
“The seniors help me a lot because they believe and trust in me so I feel like they help me a lot more,” Pridgett added. “I just want to do what’s best for the team. I just want to win.”